Godless Provenance: Chapter 2
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
Biting back an angry retort, Jack allowed their armed Jaffa escort to roughly guide them down the wide hallway, Daniel bumping awkwardly against his back as the younger man stumbled beneath a guard's brutal handling. He knew that Teal'c was somewhere further behind, and just before him Carter moved with dignity, her eyes searching out his own every few moments, as though to assure herself that this was still The Plan.
As if there could have been any other.
Upon finding that he and his team were vastly outnumbered and deep within enemy territory, it had only taken him a few painstaking moments to issue the order to relinquish their weapons and hope that he wasn't just signing their death warrants. Normally he was all about fighting to the very end, but even he knew when discretion, or in this case, surrender, was the better part of valor. No, in this case the best option was to figure out what the hell was going on, regroup, and then get the hell out of dodge. Until then-
"Hey, watch it!" Jack growled as Apophis came to a sudden halt in an intersection that looked like any of the others they had passed, the Jaffa guards reacting instantly and halting their progress with staffs thrust against the prisoners' chests.
"Take the woman and put her with the others," the Goa'uld commanded, his eyes flashing with golden light and prompting the Jaffa to comply with the orders of their god.
"Wait a minute!" Jack protested, his angry cries mingling with those of Daniel and Teal'c as he struggled to where the Jaffa converged around his second-in-command. Carter's blue eyes were wide with a barely disguised fear as she looked from her captors to where the rest of her team strained to reach her. "The only place she's going is with-" he began, the rest of his threat lost beneath a grunt of pain as a staff weapon struck him over the back of his head with enough force to cause the world to fade as pain raced up and down his back and pounded against his head.
"Hey, what was- you didn't need to hit him!"
"ONeill, are you well?"
"It's okay, Sam, we have him."
"I said to take the woman away! Put the others somewhere safe. I will deal with them later."
And then the darkness consumed him as another wave of pain washed the world away.O o O o O o O
Eyes snapping open, Buffy woke to find herself encased in a bright light that faded to reveal a heavy stone lid that slowly ground open, parting with a rush of cool air that brushed against her flushed skin. Confused, she stared up at a lurid gold ceiling that rose far above her, and then slowly turned her head to reveal dark paneled walls that encased her on either side; encased her tightly, closely, like a cold, unmoving lover... or like a casket.
With a gasp that echoed in the stone box, Buffy quickly sat forward, her wide hazel eyes darting around an unfamiliar room and then back to the tomb in which she had been lying. Features twisting in horror, she quickly scrambled to her knees and then clambered ungracefully over the edge, the heels of her black boots echoing off of the hard, golden floor as she stood uncertainly beside what looked like a sarcophagus - the kind in which King Tut had been buried so many thousands of years ago. The gold-plated walls were inset with funny pictures that certainly lent credence to that comparison, not that it made understanding how she had gotten there any easier. The last thing that she remembered was fighting against Glory, and then-
"Dawn!" Buffy cried as the memories unfurled within her mind, her desperate cry echoing around the large, sealed chamber as she looked frantically for her little sister. She had jumped into the portal to save Dawn - to save the world - and the only way for that to have happened would have been her death. Frowning, Buffy looked down at her blood-stained, ripped clothing as she suspiciously prodded the smooth, unmarked skin beneath. Well, she certainly didn't feel
very dead, she mused as she turned her eyes back to the gold-plated walls, just in time to watch as one section slid sideways with a whoosh of incoming air to reveal a group of very big, indifferent and yet strangely scary men, all of whom were carrying long poles that they held like weapons. Behind them strode a shorter, slender guy with black dreads, handsome features, and who walked as though he owned the world while his long cape swirled impressively behind him.
For a moment, Buffy didn't know where to look as her mind tried to process the ridiculous clothes they were wearing, the weapons they had to be carrying, and the unmistakable sense of evil that caused her slayer senses to go wild in warning. Instinctively she found herself backing away as she looked desperately for a weapon. Whatever they were, they didn't feel human - especially the younger guy - and she quickly put the sarcophagus between them as she abandoned her fruitless search for a weapon and instead locked eyes with the most-evil of the evil. "Who are you? Where am I?" she asked, feeling a pointless surge of pride at the strength in her voice - a strength that wavered as his eyes flashed a violent gold.
"We are your god, Klorel, son of the mighty Apophis," he returned in a voice that was deep and somehow wrong - distorted and disembodied.
"My - what?" Buffy demanded, her heart dropping as her false bravado crumbled beneath his words. With a sudden rush of horror, Buffy finally understood where she was. She wasn't dead. She hadn't received her gift - or at least not the gift that she had thought was hers to have. Instead of going to whatever wonderful place came next, she had instead ended up where Glory had wanted to be. Glory was the only other god she had ever met, which meant that she was in Glory's hell dimension, and the guy before her had to be no less than one of the Hell Gods that had kicked Glory out and sentenced her to live in Buffy's world. "Oh God," Buffy whispered as she sagged weakly against the wall behind her.
With this small exclamation, Klorel's smile lifted as he no doubt thought she was addressing him in wonder or whatever else moved his followers. "Put her with the others," he ordered, and as the large, brutish men broke rank and moved towards her, Buffy found that she really didn't care. Not any more.
Numb with shock, horror, and a profound disappointment that was tinged with despair, Buffy allowed the men to grab her arms and roughly pull her from the room. She was limp and meek in their hold, a submissive captive that followed their lead blindly while tears blurred her vision. She was in Glory's hell, and with that understanding, Buffy finally realized the truth of what she had done. She had given her life to save Dawn - to save the world - and in doing so she had condemned herself. Never again would she see her family or friends. Never again would she know their love. She was lost. Alone.
As a large, barred door slid open before her, she valiantly tried to suppress the sobs that threatened to break free. She would not cry - she wouldn't, she vowed as she was unceremoniously thrown forward, her legs, weak from shock, betraying her as she tumbled in an ungainly heap on the hard floor. Yet even the pain of her rough landing was lost as the sounds of many terrified whimpers echoed around her, and lifting her head she numbly noted the many young women of all races and nationalities that were gathered in small huddles around the large room, their terrified gazes riveted upon the men that slowly retreated from the large cell.
"Hey, you okay?"
Turning at the gentle hand that rested upon her shoulder, Buffy looked up into kind blue eyes and nodded dumbly at the older blonde who was dressed in green military fatigues. But the shock was still too great, and Buffy ignored the question as her eyes slid past hers to lock on a window that revealed the dark, vast expanse of space. "Oh God," she murmured for the second time as her face drained of all color. Ignoring the other woman, she slowly got to her feet and moved towards the window as though in a dream. This wasn't space as seen from her bedroom window, but space as seen from within its dark depths.
Shaking her head in disbelief, Buffy reached out one pale, trembling hand and pressed it against the cold glass. "Where am I?" she whispered, the words a soft breath of air as she quickly snatched her fingers back and wrapped her arms tightly, protectively around her waist.O o O o O o O
"Sergeant, I want to know what happened and I want to know now!" General Hammond barked as he glared through the observation window to where Sergeant Siler was attempting to clean the thick, gray substance and the blood from the walls of the gateroom down below.
"We're trying our best to determine that as we speak, sir," Sergeant Walter Harriman quickly assured as he stood at attention beside the furious general. Six marines had died before the creature was destroyed - six good men lost because something took control of their gate. "Reports are coming in from the Tok'ra, the Tollans - even the Nox and Asgard. The same thing seems to have happened to stargates everywhere. No one has any idea what happened - not even the Asgard."
"And what of SG-1?" Hammond demanded as he turned to the quiet technician, the loyal soldier who had been with the project for the last two years.
"They're still not answering any of our radio hails," Walter returned, his expression grim.
Frown deepening, General Hammond turned back to the heavily reinforced glass. "Have SG teams three and five prepped. We have a missing team to find."O o O o O o O
Having regained consciousness enroute to their current cell, Jack made sure that their Jaffa guard well understood his displeasure from being separated from one of his team members with every beat of his pounding head. Not that his threats and vehement curses seemed to have had any effect.
"So... anyone know what happened with the gate to drop us on Apophis' mothership?"
Kicking angrily at the wall beside the invisible barrier that marked the doorway to their cell, Jack gave one last curse before turning to find his archaeologist slouched against the far wall, his arms wrapped tightly around his chest as though the familiar move could somehow ward him from events that were achingly beyond their control. "I'm still trying to understand why Apophis still isn't dead," Jack admitted as he jammed his hands deep into his pockets. "Doesn't anyone just stay dead these days?" he asked as he looked from Daniel's pale features to where Teal'c stood quietly beside him, the ticking of his jaw the only indication that he, too, was beginning to feel that this situation was rapidly spinning out of their control - if they ever had any control to begin with.
As the silence deepened, Daniel shifted before lifting his eyes earnestly towards Jack. "What do you think Apophis wants with Sam?" he asked, putting voice to the question that was undoubtedly running through all of their minds.
But Jack had no answers - at least none that he wanted to voice - and with a disgruntled sigh, he ran his hand over his aching head and turned back towards the doorway that appeared so tantalizingly open, and yet which he knew crackled with energy. He had already suggested throwing something metal at the invisible shielding in hopes of frying the circuitry, but all it took was one arched eyebrow from Teal'c and an incredulous snort from Daniel to quell that suggestion. Which left him out of ideas.O o O o O o O
It felt like days had already come and gone since she had been separated from her team, but the logical side of Captain Carter realized that it could have only been hours at most since Colonel O'Neill had been knocked unconscious, again, and she had been thrown into the holding cell. She had spent the time pacing restlessly along the length of the large room, her eyes continuously looking for a way out, or for a weakness in the Jaffa that diligently guarded the shielded doorway. So far she had found nothing, and one look at the women that cowered in their shared prison revealed that she would find no help from her fellow prisoners. Most of them had stopped crying by now, and were gathered together in small groups, their wide, terrified eyes tracking her restless pacing as they sat silently and waited for whatever fate had in store for them. The women were all different - different clothing, different coloring, different cultures and races - the only common trait seemed to be their youthful vitality - the fact of which caused her stomach to roll. It seemed as though she was about to be penalized, once again, for being a part of the 'fairer' sex.
A soft cry amongst the terrified women alerted Sam of the new arrivals. Freezing mid-stride, she turned and watched as the invisible shield flickered briefly to allow in a flood of Jaffa warriors, followed by Apophis, Klorel and... "Amonet," she whispered, her eyes meeting briefly with the Goa'uld who had taken Daniel's wife, Sha're, as her unwilling host.
"Bow before your god, Apophis!" one of the Jaffa commanded, his words causing a ripple effect as the women quickly fell to their knees, prostrate and quivering before their gods.
Frowning grimly, Carter briefly contemplated following suit before she remembered the hard hit the Colonel had taken in her defense. He wouldn't have knelt submissively before the snakes he so hated, and even though she remembered firsthand the price of disobedience, Carter straightened her back and stood tall. She noted that one other refused to bow - the petite blonde woman that had been the last to join their numbers - though from the blank way the girl continued to stare into the darkness of space, Sam reckoned that her resistance had more to do with the shock from which the girl was obviously suffering. She was completely oblivious, Carter noted as a Jaffa strode to the young woman's side, roughly turned her before striking her behind her knees with his staff so that she was forced to the ground at his feet. At last something changed in the girl's deadened hazel eyes - a flicker of curiosity as she finally seemed to take note of her surroundings. But then Sam's own observations were cut short as she was struck behind the knees and forced to kneel, a hand digging painfully into her shoulder.
"Look, Klorel, and see what we have procured for you," Apophis spoke as he waved his arm over the kneeling captives. "Surely you will find a suitable host for your betrothed amongst these gathered," he continued as he smiled smugly to where Sam was watching with a growing sinking feeling. "We have even amassed a special gift for you, if you so choose. Your mate will learn much from the Tau'ri woman if she is your chosen vessel."
Struggling desperately against the iron hold of her captor, Sam watched as Klorel's eyes lighted upon her for the briefest of moments before he turned and made a show of inspecting all of the captive women in turn. As his disinterest in her became clear, Sam felt her panic slowly drain to be replaced by confusion. Not that she wasn't grateful that the son of Apophis wasn't interested in making her his snake-bride, but that she was so easily dismissed was strange. Klorel had all of the memories of his host, Skaara, and as such he would know the importance of the information that she carried. And yet the goa'uld looked past her, looked past all of them, until his eyes lit upon the blonde that watched the proceedings with a defeated air.
"That one. Bring her forth," he commanded as he waved imperiously at the Jaffa that stood beside the young woman.
Frown deepening, Sam watched as the guard pulled the girl by the elbow until she stood unresisting before them. For a moment the trio of goa'uld made a show of critically inspecting the young woman before Apophis turned to his son with a smoothly arched brow.
"This one?" he inquired, the disdain in his voice clear.
"She is too thin," Amonet added, her strangely deep voice a mockery to the clear tones of Daniel's wife, Sha're. "All bones and no flesh," she stated critically as the blonde's eyes narrowed at the goa'uld's words.
"This is the one who was thrown from the chapp'ai as it closed - a gift," Klorel explained, his eyes flashing as he, too, turned to inspect his future bride. "We sense much strength-"
"Strength?" Amonet interrupted, her eyes narrowing further. "She is small-"
"Hey," the blonde broke in, silencing everyone as deadened hazel eyes sparked in indignation. "Haven't you ever heard that good things come in small packages?"
For a moment, silence followed the young woman's interruption as all marveled at her gall. Sam, however, found herself leaning forward against her Jaffa captor as she stared at the young woman in disbelief. Not only had the stranger spoken in perfect English, but she had also spoken with an American accent - west coast, if she wasn't mistaken. Then, and only then did she truly look at the girl - from the blood-stained, grimy white sweater and charcoal pants that could easily have been purchased from any number of fashionable shops back home, to the polished sheen of her fingernails and the many small silver earrings that she had in each ear. She would stake a month's pay that the girl was an American... which just begged the question of how on earth she had ended up on Apophis' mothership.
"You will be silent before your God," Amonet whispered, her eyes narrowed in anger. But as Sam watched in disbelief, she saw that instead of cowing the young women, Amonet's words seemed to fan the spark of rebellion into a bright flame as the girl finally cast off her shroud of despair and straightened her shoulders, her chin lifted and her smile mocking.
"Funny thing about Hell Gods," the blonde returned with a jaunty smile that quickly turned feral. "I don't much care for them, and if you think that I'm sharing a body with Junior's Hell Bitch, like Ben did with Glory... well, I kicked Glory's ass and right now I'm thinking that troll hammer or not, I don't have anything left to lose."
Floored, Sam watched as Amonet hissed at the girl in fury before quickly raising her hand, clearly preparing to unleash her anger while Klorel began speaking rapidly to his 'mother' in obvious hopes to stay her hand. But the blonde wasn't finished, for as Klorel drew the attention of Apophis and Amonet, the girl acted almost quicker than Sam's eyes could follow as she jerked her arm free of her Jaffa guard and then swung the guard into the mass of soldiers that stood in a loose circle around their gods. Instantly all hell broke loose as the blonde battled the Jaffa with a strength and speed that seemed inhuman, her hands and feet moving in a blur of familiar martial moves that left the strong warriors reeling to either side, or slumped unconscious on the hard tiled floor.
Sam watched for a brief moment before she shook free of her surprise and used the distraction to slip free of her own oversized guard. Rolling forward, she came to a crouch beside a fallen staff weapon, and without pause she lifted the familiar weapon and turned back towards the melee. In seconds the staff was charged and she shot once, hitting her stunned guard and killing him instantly, his look of surprise forever etched onto his features, before she turned and fired at those who weren't already incapacitated by the young woman who seemed content to release all of her anger, frustration, and rage upon any who opposed her. For the briefest of moments, Sam's eyes met the clear hazel of the petite blonde, and in that brief exchange she recognized a kindred spirit as the blonde nodded her thanks, but then the connection was broken as an invisible force lifted Sam off of her feet and sent her slamming against a far wall.
Stunned, she slid down the wall and collapsed upon the floor, winded, bruised and fingers scrabbling for a staff weapon that was now far from reach. She looked up and found Apophis' smirking gaze upon her, but she ignored the goa'uld as she turned back to the fight in time to see a Jaffa take aim and fire a zat'nikatel at the young blonde, hitting her squarely in the chest. Wincing in sympathy as the electrical charge coursed over the girl, Carter waited for her imminent collapse - but the girl merely staggered before straightening to glare at the Jaffa who had shot her. Then, without a word the young woman started running towards the equally stunned Jaffa, only to have her steps halted as the Jaffa fired for a second time - a killing shot - and this time the young woman went down, and did not rise again.
Sam was horrified, but she could do nothing as the Jaffa warily approached the unmoving blonde, his foot prodding her once before he bent low to inspect his casualty. "She lives," the Jaffa proclaimed, the amazement evident in his voice as he turned questioningly to his gods.
Instantly Klorel turned to Apophis, his features set. "I choose the warrior," he stated, his voice firm.
Apophis hesitated for a moment before he grudgingly nodded his consent.
Closing her eyes, Sam sagged back against the wall as she heard the Jaffa gather the young woman, the American, into his arms. She didn't know what worried her more - the fact that Apophis had apparently visited her planet and taken one of their citizens, or that the citizen was about to become host to Klorel's future mate, and in doing so, would condemn her to forevermore be a prisoner in her own body. Either way, things didn't look good - for any of them.O o O o O o O
"I'm sorry, sir, but there's no sign of SG-1."
Frowning, Hammond bent towards the computer screen and glared at the live video feed. "Major, you've only been looking for a few hours. Don't you think SG-1 deserves a little more of our time?"
"Of course, sir," the man hastily replied as he hunched closer to the camera so that his face blocked the bright sun of the alien planet. "Thing is, there's no sign that SG-1 ever made it to the planet at all. We haven't found any tracks whatsoever - the planet seems uninhabited."
The silence stretched for a moment that lasted an eternity. Too many people heard the soft Texan drawl and assumed that it made him a simple man. However, as his daughter once quoted, just because he talked slow, that didn't make him stupid - not to mention that the Air Force didn't usually make a habit of promoting a simple man into a General. If SG-1 never made it to the planet, that could only mean one thing - and it was a conclusion that General George Hammond stubbornly refused to state out loud.
"Is there a chance that the gate misdialed?" he asked, his quiet voice carrying over the rapid-fire keystrokes of the balding younger man that sat before him.
"No, sir, the logs show that the gate connected with PX3-582 - at least until the... uh, disturbance. After that... well, sir, it's anyone's guess."
Frown settling deeper, Hammond nodded slowly at Walter's words. He hadn't really expected to hear anything different, he had just desperately needed that moment to try and force the words past his constricted throat. If the Major said that SG-1 never made it to the planet, then SG-1 never made it - but to admit otherwise would be admitting to something far worse. His flagship team would have contacted them by now had they been able, which only left one other alternative - and he didn't want to have to declare his team MIA, or worse, KIA, yet again.
"Major, I want you to give it another hour."
Something akin to understanding flashed across the man's hardened features as he nodded once. "Yes, sir," he confirmed. "We'll do our best."O o O o O o O
Groaning, Buffy woke to find herself once more lying on a bed of stone, but this time there were no stone walls to enclose her. As remembered waves of pain sizzled down her nerve endings, her eyes slid open to reveal a wash of bright, golden light. Wincing, she tried to lift her hand to shield her watering eyes, but it was as though her hand was ignoring her commands. Confused, Buffy tried to lift her head to look at the offending limb, only to discover that the paralysis seemed to extend to her head and neck as well. She couldn't wiggle her toes or even turn her head from side to side. Her eyes and her mouth were the only parts of her body that would respond to her increasingly frantic demands.
"Well, this can't be good," she murmured, thankful to at least hear her own voice.
"No, it cannot," Klorel - and wasn't that Clark Kent's real name? - agreed as he bent over her, so that his smiling face filled her vision. "Soon our mate will know well of your strengths and none of your weaknesses - and all of your secrets. You should feel honored for you have been chosen to be host to a god."
Snorting bitterly, Buffy met the god's flashing eyes. "I just finished beating a hell god to within an inch of her life, and I'll do the same to all of you," she vowed as Klorel smiled indulgently at her, as though a parent who was proud of their child's spirit.
"No, you will not," he refuted as he stepped away, Buffy straining to follow his movements as he waved imperiously to someone beside him. Frustrated at her inability to turn her head even a fraction, Buffy's eyes rolled to the other side, skipping past Superman's dad and mom, from where they stood impassively beside their son, past a few of the muscle in chain mail that she had trashed awhile back, and to another guy who was dressed in the unmistakable garb of a priest of some sort - and to the writhing, wriggling creature that was held reverently in his hands.
"What the hell is that?" Buffy demanded, her eyes growing wide as the snake-like-thing turned its dragon head towards her and hissed. The thing was evil, pure and simple, and she felt her body straining to recoil in horror from the thing, even as the slayer in her pushed against whatever held her to the table, wanting nothing more than to squeeze the thing until it popped.
"That is my mate, Senebtysy," Superman responded with a fond smile.
Eyes growing wider, Buffy desperately tried to move any part of her body - even an uncooperating finger - as she intuitively understood what was being unsaid. "And you want to put that thing
inside me?!" she demanded as the full horror of her situation fell upon her. She was a slayer and slayers were never meant to be helpless, but that was exactly what she was. The invisible force that held her to the table seemed impervious to her slayer strength, and suddenly Buffy understood that there were far worse things than even being made into a vampire.
never said anything about Glory being an overgrown... an overgrown snake-thing!" she hissed as she watched the priest draw closer and then lower the thing onto her chest. Buffy panicked - her breath coming in heaving gulps past an airway that was suddenly too small as she felt the cold, sinuous creature slither along the bare skin of her chest, leaving a wet, oozing trail down the side of her neck, and then along the back until it entered through the base of her neck with a violent thrust - a wet squelch of tearing skin, muscle, and spraying blood.
A wave of agony and fear mingled together to steal a scream of pure terror from Buffy's lips as the evil invaded her body. She felt the creature inside her as it slithered within her, felt it coiling around her spine, and then she felt IT as it attached itself to her brain and finished an invasion of both body and soul. Her scream was cut short as IT took control, pushing a deeply shocked and traumatized Buffy deep within some dark corner of her soul - but that was before the true violation, for not only did it control her body, but she felt IT pry open her thoughts and memories, and with this violation she saw snatches of its own dark thoughts and desires. It was Evil, and she felt it like a stain that slowly spread through her body and deep into her heart, contaminating her with darkness.
And that was when the Slayer came to the fore.O o O o O o O
"What is happening?" Amonet demanded as she turned to her husband and son with curious eyes.
A frown pulling at his thin ips, Apophis watched as the host's body began to convulse upon the golden altar, bright arcs of electricity shimmering from the circuitry as her eyes flickered with the light of a goa'uld while the pupils rolled wildly. It almost looked as though the host's body was attempting to fight off the symbiote, but never would he voice such musings aloud. Truth be told, he had never seen anything like this before - yet a god never admitted uncertainty.
"Father-" Klorel began, his clear tones showing his dismay as the altar shorted out, allowing the young woman's body to fully arc from the table before falling limp upon the hard surface. It seemed as though the struggle was over, yet he doubted the outcome as the host's ragged breathing filled the quiet room, her face flushed and her skin slick with sweat.
"Senebtysy?" Klorel asked as he stepped closer so that he could look directly down upon the face of his betrothed. Yet when her eyes finally slid open, they revealed none of the power and strength of a goa'uld, but instead a weary and pained defiance.
"Your demon-snake girlfriend," the girl whispered, not in the strong tones of a goa'uld but in the voice of the host, "is dead, just as you're going to be once I get my strength back."
Brow arching in disbelief, Apophis watched as the girl's eyes rolled back in her head, her body falling limp and ragged upon the raised altar. Surprisingly enough, he found that he wasn't that disappointed about the loss of Senebtysy, betrothed to his son, but was instead intrigued by the puzzle that was laid out before him. Ignoring Amonet's questions, and turning from Klorel as his son used his ribbon device to kill the stuttering Jaffa priest, Apophis stepped closer to inspect the small woman-child that contained a strength and speed beyond that of her kind, and who had just destroyed the goa'uld to which she was chosen to host. First the Tau'ri, the very thorns that were responsible for the destruction of his previous ship, arrive on his doorstep, and then this curiosity falls from the chapp'ai at his son's feet. It seemed as though Fate was smiling upon him this day - if he believed in fate.
Nodding briskly, he turned to his loyal Jaffa. "Summon Haremakhet," he ordered, his lips lifting in a brief, feral grin as he thought of the goa'uld that had sworn his allegiance after his own weak army had been conquered. Haremakhet had never stood a chance of gaining a seat amongst the System Lords, however he did possess one worthwhile trait that prevented his death by Apophis' own hand. "He will perform his tests on the slave and determine how her strengths may be used to our advantage," he continued, knowing that if anyone could learn from another's inner workings, it would be that fool. "Take her away."